Days after Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape in a landmark verdict for the #MeToo movement, women who accused the former movie mogul and Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct joined forces in New York to talk about what's next for the entertainment industry, including the need for the business to support and hire survivors.
Former Def Jam executive Drew Dixon, who went public with sexual harassment and assault claims against Simmons in a New York Times exposé in December 2017, said Saturday in a panel discussion with other accusers moderated by The Hollywood Reporter's executive film editor Tatiana Siegel that since she spoke out "not a single black person in the music industry" has contacted her to ask if they can work together on music. Dixon has produced hit records for Carlos Santana (“Maria, Maria”), Aretha Franklin (“A Rose Is Still a Rose”), Whitney Houston (“My Love Is Your Love”), Estelle (“American Boy”), Lauryn Hill, Monica, Deborah Cox, Method Man, the Notorious B.I.G., Q-Tip, Mary J. Blige, John Legend and Kanye West. And despite this track record, Dixon said, "Nobody called me, to this day, and said, 'Drew, can we put you on?'"
"They are not touching me," she said. "People have to be ethical and brave in positions of power with access to capital, access to distribution and put us on."
Dixon's comments echo those of Weinstein accuser Sarah Ann Masse, who claims the former film mogul sexually assaulted her when she interviewed to babysit his children and has started a movement to hire those who have come forward with claims of sexual misconduct. During Saturday's panel at the Athena Film Festival in New York, the actress and comedian said that she hadn't had an audition in two years since she came forward with her story.
Asked by Siegel about Weinstein and Simmons' far-reaching financial influence and whether the "prioritization will shift from protecting the moneymakers to doing the right thing in this new era," Masse replied, "I don't think until the people making the money off of the predators realize they can make money off of people like us that it will shift. … It's a business — people care about bottom lines. … The industry has to know that protecting these predators to protect their bottom line will cost them money, will hit them in their wallets, will hit them in their bank accounts."
Masse added that she launched the #HireSurvivorsHollywood movement on social media and is trying to start a survivor-run production company, with a focus on producing projects by silence breakers and hiring those who have been victims of sexual misconduct, in an effort to put pressure on Hollywood after she felt as if she was "screaming into a void about this career retaliation" when it "just seems clearer and clearer to me that people who are in positions of power aren't going to do the right thing."
"Sexual violence survivors are a traditionally silenced group, and I think it's something that we have to come together as a community to address," Masse said of wanting to make this a cultural issue. "It shouldn't be that way. People in power should be doing something about it, but they're not."
Dixon highlighted the "loyalty conundrum" around Simmons, since the Def Jam co-founder has "created a lot of wealth for black people" and helped black men and women become entrepreneurs in TV, fashion and other industries.
"It's an ecosystem," Dixon added. "So many people in positions of power, certainly in the black entertainment industry, are all adjacent to Russell. There's not anybody in a real decision-making position who's black in entertainment who's not adjacent to him or adjacent to maybe one person away."
"That's why the [Weinstein] verdict mattered to me," said Dixon, "because it was something tangible. … It's important we take these conversations and awareness and we translate it into something tangible."
Indeed, all of the women — including Weinstein accuser Jasmine Lobe and Simmons accuser Sheri Sher — indicated that despite this possible lack of industry support, socially there's been an effort to call out bad behavior, which Dixon maintained should continue.
"This kind of stuff thrives in darkness," she said. "It depends on all of us being so repulsed by the behavior, and in some cases the language, that we kind of clutch our pearls and turn the other way and we are actually, by doing that, enabling the more toxic behavior that's happening outside of our view. Or if you are a victim, it's happening to you. I think what we can all do is, if you see something say something. You call it out. You don't laugh it off. You can maybe ask somebody if they're OK. If you see the behavior in front of you that's abusive, that's crossing the line, I can assure you what you're not seeing behind the closed door might be worse, and so maybe ask that person. … If we can all say it, call it out, draw a line and not be OK with it, we sort of close these doors, these pockets of darkness, where the predators maneuver, we make it harder for them. That's something we can all do in our everyday life."
Dixon also encouraged people to create a "safe space" for other survivors to come forward, explaining that those who are victims of sexual misconduct are involved in a "second crime" of covering it up as long as they remain silent.
"Be the safe space and help them understand that there is a second crime happening every single day that they don't let it go," she said. "Create the space, support people. Understand that it is really life-changing to be free of a secret. Make yourself available to people so that they can let it go."
Dixon added that the #MeToo movement hasn't gone far enough, citing Christine Blasey Ford's accusations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as an indication that there's still more work to be done despite the recent Weinstein victory.
"We cannot take this ground we've gained for granted," she said. "I was so worried when the Christine Blasey Ford thing happened that survivors that might've been on the precipice of coming forward might be discouraged and they might crawl back in their shell. And I can tell you as someone who lived in that shell for 22 years and I thought it was fine, now that I'm done with that shell, it was a prison. I don't want anyone else to have to go back there or stay there because he or she or they believe the coast is not clear. We have got to hold this space so we can keep going."
The women also shared their reactions to the Weinstein verdict, saying they felt surprised and relieved and hoped the decision set a precedent for believing survivors instead of engaging in victim blaming.
"I did not even know I was emotionally invested in the Weinstein verdict other than that obviously the bravery of the Weinstein silence breakers is the watershed moment that made it possible for me to come forward," Dixon said, adding that news that the verdict was imminent caused her to start shaking. Once it was announced that Weinstein was found guilty, she screamed and when he was handcuffed and remanded, Dixon said she began weeping.
"The idea that a powerful, famous, well-connected, rich white man was being cuffed and incarcerated immediately was, like, unfathomable to me as a black woman and a rape survivor, for whom justice didn't seem like anything that was in the realm of possibility," added Dixon. "It's a game-changer. It's a watershed moment. Also the fact that they as a jury, a majority-male jury, understood the nuance of remaining in touch with your perpetrator, which I did with Russell because I was still working in the industry and I would go out of my way, when I saw him at events, to smile sheepishly to signal 'I'm not a problem, I'm not talking about this, please don't blackball me,' because they don't cease to be the arbiters of power and opportunity just because they raped you. They're more so a threat, frankly, after."